Whether you're a one-woman show or lead a business of thousands, work for the hottest tech startup or in a lesser-known niche industry, strong communication skills are crucial to your success.
Naturally, you strive to be a top notch communicator. So here's the million-dollar question: Is English your native language? If the answer is yes, you might have some work to do to improve your communication skills.
Though English is the global language of business, native English speakers are often at a disadvantage. They're commonly misunderstood because the non-native speakers have trouble following along.
While this may not be an issue for those communicating solely with fellow native English speakers, this is increasingly becoming less common. U.S.-based businesses of all sizes now contract goods and services from non-native English speakers around the world.
Why native English speakers struggle to be understood
Few native English speakers go on to learn another language. This means they have limited experience not only learning languages but also speaking them. To them, English is English. If only that were true. Everyone who speaks English, including non-natives, speaks a different flavor, depending on how they learned and how well.
Believe it or not, a group of non-native English speakers often understand each other just fine. It's when an American or British person walks into the room that problems start, the BBC explains. Their deep level of knowledge of the language actually puts them at a disadvantage.
They might use words that are completely lost on their audience. When words like "circling back" and "synergy" enter the conversation, forget it. To the others, you might as well be speaking another language entirely.
Here are a few more reasons why it's worth adapting your communication style so everyone you do business with can understand what the heck you're saying.
Native speakers speak too fast
If you've only spoken one language your entire life, you've obviously had a lot of practice. What might not be so obvious is how quickly you're speaking. Phrases and thoughts come naturally to you in English, and they come out of your mouth just as quickly. All the while, your non-native colleagues may be struggling just to keep up.
"The native English speaker...is the only one who might not feel the need to accommodate or adapt to the others," communications skills and intercultural trainer Chia Suan Chong told the BBC. Non-native speakers tend to speak more slowly and choose their words more carefully to avoid being misunderstood.
Also, stop mumbling. Articulate pronunciation earns you bonus points.
Native speakers simply can't relate
If you've never learned another language, you can't empathize with how difficult it is to understand idioms, humor, or informal speech. You may be more inclined to use words that leave your audience totally and utterly confused.
Non-native speakers will likely avoid confusing phrases for two reasons. Either they don't know these idiosyncrasies of the English language because they haven't yet learned them, or they simply choose not to use them in business conversations because it'd make things too confusing. They know everyone might not fully grasp the meaning of these nuanced words, so they stick with straightforward language everyone can more easily understand.
Becoming a better communicator
Even if you don't have the time, energy, or money to learn another language, you can vastly improve your English communication skills to be better understood by all.
Rule No. 1: Keep it simple, stupid. That doesn't mean you should speak at a painfully slow pace or talk down to non-native English speakers as if they're children. Instead, eliminate unnecessary jargon from your conversation to eliminate the potential for confusion.
In meetings, observe who's doing all the talking. Is it you? Then cool your jets. Invite others to participate. It may take non-native English speakers a few more moments to gather their thoughts. Sit tight and resist the urge to fill the silence with mindless chatter. There's a good reason why you're in a dialog together, and it's important to hear what they have to say.
In sum, stop talking a million miles an hour and slipping jargony gibberish into every conversation. Your business deals just might skyrocket once people can finally understand the meaning of your words.